Shedding Some Light
I found my first shed deer antler when I was a youngster slipping up behind a stock tank dam on my grandparents’ dairy pasture in Comanche County with the anticipation of bagging a bullfrog or two with my BB gun.
The antler find wasn’t as grand as discovering an arrowhead along the same cow trail a year earlier but it was a grand prize for me. After all, anytime I can discover an arrowhead, skull, bone carcass or any other token left behind by wildlife or users of wildlife of past generations, it’s a great incident to me and it is ones like it that I deeply cherish.
The discovery of the whitetail deer antlers that a buck had dropped gave me an urgency. You might have felt it too, if you had discovered the right side of a proud buck’s defense head ornament. For me, it instilled a deeper desire to see if I could find the second half of the antlers to make it a complete set.
To my pleasant surprise, the left side of the buck’s sheds lay on the ground only a few yards away near a barbed wire fence bordering my grandparents’ dairy. It was a lesson I have remembered to this day. Sheds often fall from a buck’s head when the deer leaps over a fence, the jolt causing both antlers to drop away.
I have searched for “complete” antler sheds many times since then, but I have found only a few. Nevertheless, it is that first find on my grandparents’ Comanche dairy in the early 1950s that fueled my personal hunting strategies for the many great whitetail bucks I have shot since then. The most recent was an eight-pointer I shot on a west Lampasas County ranch last November.
As you may recall, the usual winter cold fronts were just beginning to bring a change in deer movements. The bucks in Lampasas County, as usual, were in the major rutting season. Cold fronts do not prompt deer into going into the rutting season. Instead it’s the length of daylight.
I realize that may go against what your father or grandfather may have taught you, but bucks and does have their own clocks. They do not care what Old Man Winter’s clocks say.
I had tied together that pair of old Comanche County whitetail buck sheds with boot laces and hung them from a nail above the bed on my hunting cabin. An hour before daybreak two weeks before last Thanksgiving morning, I pulled them down, placed them with my normal hunting gear and went hunting.
I think a lot of us hunt much by habit. I will be among the first to admit my errors with that, but I don’t forget them. When I realized most of the “early feeders” had come and gone at the deer feeder by 8 a.m., I took the pair of shed antlers and moved about 175 yards away to a trail that led to a heavily wooded patch I had calculated to be a bedding area. No, I wasn’t expecting deer to be moving there to bed down that morning. I expected bucks to be moving through it in search of does.
Many people have asked me how to rattle up deer. My answer always has been the same. Attempt to sound like two bucks fighting. Rattle at first like two small bucks sparring. Then escalate the “fight” into a more aggressive battle between a pair of larger bucks, tapering off at the end with more sparring.
It is a lot like predator calling or calling turkeys during the spring. If you sound like something those animals or birds can relate to, stay with it but don’t overdo it. The same is true for duck calling. I have hunted with many “expert” duck hunters whose calling sounds more like ducks in distress than ducks doing what ducks do naturally. Try to sound like real ducks, not duck callers trying to win a duck calling contest.
My hunches, or instincts, paid off. About 20 minutes after using the antlers, I saw movement through a small opening about 100 yards away. I grabbed my binoculars and quickly saw it was a big-bodied animal although I couldn’t see its antlers. Nevertheless, the deep and broad body told me it probably was a buck.
I watched the deer move slowly through the tiny openings, gradually closing the gap between me and him. Within a matter of a minute or so, the buck was within 35 yards and coming straight in to my position.
I have rattled up more aggressive bucks in the past, but this one seemed to be hoping to steal a doe away from the fighting bucks. He didn’t particularly want to get himself into a fight.
I judged the buck to have about a 15-inch or better inside spread with eight points. The shot was the climax to that morning’s events, but not to a lifetime of carrying afield those old eight-point sheds I had found as a youngster.
To those antlers, it was just another chapter in the book, just as it was for me. I have lost count of the number of bucks I have rattled up with those antlers, but if I took the time I feel certain I could remember each deer, each setting and the anxious moments of each event. Maybe some of you have your own rattling antlers that mean a lot, too.
The buck now is in my freezer, awaiting some great cookouts in the days to come.
Those old antlers are back hanging on that nail on the wall of my Lampasas County deer cabin, no doubt looking forward to the next time they fool maybe an even greater whitetail buck.
Contact Bob Hood at
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